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Hamilton Stone Review #34 Spring 2016
Roger Mitchell, Poetry Editor
Ghost Says Sometimes We're Dirty And Easy
with our see-through skins and our shiny teeth. Sometimes we look especially for girls with pretty names like Virginia or Heather or Claire, and follow them down the highway, streaks of light that they think are smears on a rainy window or the car in the blind spot that's not there when they turn. Sometimes, Ghost says, we burn, not from sin or brimstone, not from unfinished business like what you hear, but just to have someone with us, just to have something beautiful near.
You just don't know. Say I'm a boy named Jimmy Baird, a second son what put on the uniform, 16th Regiment, 1st Virginia, after my brother was kilt at Dranesville. Say I left my daddy's farm in Jetersville, after my daddy was kilt too, kilt early, at Mannassas, and I marched myself off at sixteen to join up against them Yankees. I walked away from Sayler's Creek. I walked and walked and reckon I'm still walking, they said to High Bridge, or Rice's Depot, but me, I just see this road what tears my feet again and again since I lost my boots, I just see the sun forever going down, in that west I walk to, and that woman, that woman, I all the time see that curly-headed woman, who sits on the stoop, and lifts a hand each day as me and my boys go by. Reckon one day I'll stop and speak, ask her don't she think it's true, how we sometimes can't see the cost when we feel we got something to prove?
and maybe it is, my daddy with his Irish eyes and husky laugh. But he doesn't sound like Brooklyn anymore and I can't help but giggle and do my sad Darth Vader. Ghost says I am your father. Ghost laughs too, says, very funny, and it's not like I myself didn't tell the same twelve jokes for years when I still wore that body. Then I know it is, in fact, my father, with his tics and twitches, and all the pain that lined his constant laughter, and I feel sweetly sad and sadly sweet, remembering this the gentlest man I ever knew. Daddy, is it really you? I ask. He calls me Way, that childhood name, and pats my hand, and suddenly I want corned beef and cabbage. I want sweet black coffee, and bagels with a schmear. I want my daddy back, reciting Yeats and singing those ditties from the forties. I flip the paper open, to the crossword puzzle, pick up my pencil to begin, and he chides, Oh no no no, you know better. Only a coward uses a pencil. Pick up your pen.
Of what, I ask? Of your grandmother, he says, of what you already know, look where the grass declares itself against the river, where the roots lay claim to whatever lays in their path, where the wind laughs against any army of intentions. Look under the stairs, in the fork drawer, between the curls of the cauliflower, in the wild carrot asserting itself in the ditch. Look in the dark, in the rippled asphalt of nighttime driving. Look where the deer are thriving. Peer closely into the face of the rocks tumbling water, into the cup of the rotted log, the needy swamp, the divided desert. Look into the gourd that creeps east to west. See and speak and memorize what is evident, what remains. Look in the next place you think of, in the bereft space between what and is, Look, look, look at everything that's left.
Take me too up the mountain, to the edge of the sky, to the mouth of the long night. Slake the thirst of those who carry me with the cold water the stones offer up. Make cups of my hands that I may feed them one last time. Empty me out in the honor of all who have walked the heated day, and of the vastness that made it. Then sit. Pray like the grasses, like the rocky ground with its relentless solemnity, like the hushing pass of the griffon vulture, like the velvet step of the Pallas cat. Sing that jackal's howling song, and from the distance, I will sing too, carrying along the wind between. Then leave me, bird-scattered and bleached, whitened til I'm britttle, til I'm dust in the sun. Leave me laughing in the reach, in the whispering riddle of who I will become.
outsourced, offshored, downsized—they
replaced me with 30 cm of coaxial cable!
skills: various. extensive work history.
clerk. crying towel. cloud watcher. pro
wimp. quisling witch cum witchfinder
hindenburg wing man. ben-hur extra.
cave man/cave painter, cartwright.
bone-rolling shaman, telecommuter.
fiance, until my rage got in the way.
liontamer, until the govt. shut down
the freak show and all the fun tiptoed
out the back door. i quit being a rodeo
clown when i looked in the mirror and
saw a soldier, deserted the army when
i saw armadas of neon parallelograms
invade the night sky, then it was mad
scientist in an alien invasion movie, no
a-list stars but a lot of familiar faces.
zagreb doubled for new york. the rest
was all green screen, the nerds with
their light pens. i’ve been called a team
player. i’ve been shot with an air gun.
hard to believe air could hurt so much
but important things are often invisible,
it takes training and grace to see them;
i think every good employee should
know this. autobiography is a sub-
genre of fiction. glass is a liquid.
light pours in, washes me clean.
when i was a gardener i couldn’t
tell the flowers from the weeds.
i still tried my best. references
are available upon request.
in the movie based on the novelization of the play
inspired by a true story a terminator fell in love
with a zombie. or was it a predator. i forget. it
was arty, autobiographical, with soft lenses.
the violence was abstracted, at oblique angles.
the soundtrack was grating, electronic. the
killer’s steps were steady, the femme fatale
told the lead to man up, emotions roiling
beneath the masks we mistook for faces.
who’s the real me? the cyborg asked. and
where’s my off switch, i’m so tired. the
tension slackened by the third reel, the
obligatory car chase. the popcorn was
slick with faux butter, your dentyne
was mint. all movies run together in
a cinemascope epic, a celluloid river
trailing behind us. all stories starts to
sound the same. boy meets girl. he’s
new in town. he has a dad. something’s
wrong. he was there, now here, this,
now that, stuck in the past, unfree,
stars don’t really shine, their glamour’s
a rental, let me die in black and white.
i didn’t like it when they changed spiderman’s
costume. and i didn’t like it when green lantern
left the justice league of america, some guys
you just can’t replace. hollywood should have
given orson welles a few more second chances,
what a waste. and toronto, searching for God
in toronto was like playing hide and seek with
the invisible man. hurry on sunrise, hurry on
sundown. on ash wednesday i almost woke
up in the wrong body, how embarrassing. it
happened before, a neanderthal stranger
glared back at me from the puddles along
victoria st. n. incrementally they replaced
my friends with androids. i try reality tv:
lies taste better when they glitter. i try
reality: the wind slaps potato chip bags
against my ankles, greedy microflora
rezone my g.i. tract and still she doesn’t
come back! insects under the floorboards
bide their time. child star junkies bide their
time. whiptracks of beauty slashing through
the plasma screen glare, nameless colours,
the train wreck you can’t look away from.
Where Do They Go?
Where do they go?
The Platonic sub-Forms
of recipes ten years old?
The youthful temperaments
of tech school football stars?
We sense something less than infinity
in the infinite daydream.
Have you, personally,
ever designed a guardrail?
What exactly “escapes me”?
Is it that fast?
Must we—dig that construction—must we posit
a whole theogony to tantalize?
Not that it’s not done
and is not quite not painful;
Stay out of the kitchen,
Bobby K. In fact,
all of you,
and the oars flamed flower
and pomegranates were shared throughout the land
of dead far as
the Eros Avenue exoskel-exit--
where ice was thawing
down the keystone
Bowl flames with pollen
and the sun drips black
behind the eyes.
Below parallel skeins
dandelions: lit flares.
Stone urchin of sulfur
is the earth sun,
a rosette of flare
with its carmine-for-black corona,
in the most gigantic sea,
and with an “equally” gigantic gesture,
Watching the Bucentaur
from a thistle-flower--
His Most Serene
All those foam slaps
and surf-slaps into seabed
after her perfect blurred
lunettes there in the tower--
red sea slug
joined in battle
for all the graphite
great bloody hydrangea
on their own
Written on the Body of Judson Jerome
leaves will be wrapped
in water and rot.
I lay in between
the sheets. With
my head from
Whitman to Rilke.
The driftwood is
whitening in the
sun. The open mouth
of the whale
Jonah is bargained
for like any
fugitive talent. Other people
move in the world
When my sister
has her own children
I will be the
bone woman lost
As wet as a leaf
in snow. 'Be sure
to send them all
my love' I will say
in a whirlwind
down the loophole
of the telephone.
At the back of my throat
it will mark
safely. Follow a straight line.
will be gold.
goes in with the tide
and out again.
The sea shows
no mercy. The beach
wretched on this
cold winter day.
Salt and light
the skeleton key.
'Please tell me
about your day.' I will say
Down the loophole
of the telephone.
She will begin to
tell me about the
fellowship of the
wild (the people that she works with).
It is a wait
and see game for
me. Wait to
see if she acknowledges
me. See if she
laughs or if I
can hear her smiling
at the other end.
I drink a flood
of tea. That is
my meat country.
The same with pain.
I give it some
time. Say 'this
too shall pass'.
There is a gulf
between us. Gulls
as far as the eye
can see. Collectively giving
a false sense
Johannesburg's Garden City Clinic
These streets are
paved with gold.
Yellow suns. I gaze into
fields. Wonder at
the lives of the people
who live here in this
is a flame inside each
of them. I pass
a woman standing alone
in the rain. She has
a bunch of flowers
in her hands. She
buys flowers I assume
for herself. Does no
one buy them for her?
Surrender the poet
said. I let go of you.
Do the flowers make her happy?
To all the ghosts
living or dead from
my past in the spirit
of writing this I let
go of all of you.
People. Humans. Life.
A blank space instead
of my name or face.
I write inspired.
Giving way to
This great lesson
is not what divides
us, it is what makes
us who we are.
The wealth of winter is crisp.
I remember my sister
in the red trench coat
passing for an
walking down the
stairs at the hospital
Her nerves of steel.
My life was a journey
to end through
the eyes of someone
who lives with
I live on the coast.
She still comes to me.
In rain or shine
I have to be
near the ocean.
On thinking of Wislawa Szymborska
Anguish and shock
rushes through me.
Here is a rush
of family in
The soup is on
the table. Women
have to endure.
This is what I
have learned the
hard way. It is
autumn out and
guests of the day
have turned cold.
to this time
this place just as
much as birdsong in
She forged a path
of fire for many who
came after her.
Years of silence.
The survival kit
of Eve's song,
of Wislawa's song
will follow me
for all my life.
will follow her.
This Masai dreamer too.
of ideas turn in
the air with its
This is its
season. I will
the poetry to live
in this wasteland.
No short measure
of grief there.
This is part of the lost country
are to be found.
A concentration camp
found in ten
I can smell rain
in this forest
of verse. There
is something pure
about the day.
Its soul adrift.
Me and The Girls
I try to call him
but the girls are by the door
asking me, What for,
you have us now?
The fan has stopped
but they're still, What for?
and I'm lonely
and I say, That's why.
Fix it mom.
We cool down
and our cat purrs to life.
They hum into the fan
their own song.
We sit cross-legged
and pass around the scrambled eggs
and the big squeeze bottle of ketchup from our old house.
Is it okay, girls?
No, but we'll eat it.
Rachmaninov’s Lone Trumpet
Not love repined but magic never had
augmented palled estranged his days: the muse
extant demands alterity and praise.
When gone White Logic autogams the falc-
ate rheol, resolve of apophens; the ruth
usurping better served by irrealing;
the mornings trephinate; the stygi’n sun
a bagnio a rubicon a scutch
a hant a henbane, mortish circum-
incession (raining jackdaws, fallow field,
the earthend watertowers godding, moths’
wassail from pooled swags, a Midwest road,
a smalltown graveyard’s planes the first to bare);
the second reason for fey lines; verprevar:
People’d look at him and hug each other.
The riven oubliette halfmooned that won’t
be left (abed in pickup tacky still,
Americanned) till dirt is paved and lamps
ensoul the dogday trees now intersticed
by vesp –cicadatocsin ague— wan
at apogee (unrecked the dealates
gainst corrugate) as muffled friends in cab
expound (we knew so few people back then)
and milieu inspissates with fireflies
and rivehung vines of dusty flowers soon
silhouettes fingerveil the berried crows
and possums –crows from pines and trees osteal
bove graves and fens— opens shocking as an
offing yawned: we head to town to fuck shit up.
Ex nihilo bookplated by a cloud
that fanged; the queried grain unswathed by storm
that shivered some, no more; the silo burned
mistook for moon; the bat eclipsing stars
as if purposed; the melic icicles
notated by hoofswags; the dripping moms,
phlebotom dads: a curse is, Bel, what I’m
essaying./ Blood inguinal before school:
we added ketchup, then your gymshorts in
November; hit that guy real good, delicti licked.
Atropous for a year at best from then;
our vatic lips cartooning love almost;
losung earned, sighs low, dumb, like manes alive:
we’d laugh and check the blood as it arrived.
I’m trying to remember how to make your favorite soup
when I have only candles and soap in this kitchen,
a few potted plants and pebbles and it’s raining
hard enough to feel we are living underwater
or at least behind a waterfall. Could I use my own skin?
Tears are warm and salty, but I don’t want to cry
just to make your soup; that seems faintly histrionic
or at least sentimental. The best soup’s made with bones,
of course, and I haven’t any, at least not outside
my body. Bones and bruises. And so I think
of many things I don’t feel anymore, and of you trudging
home now in this historic rain, maybe even humming
one of our favorite songs under your breath,
thinking of my fragrant soup as you take a wrong turn
in the deluge, almost tasting that soup now as you wade
the sidewalk-rapids on a street in some neighborhood
that looks a lot like ours, though it isn’t. I am boiling
clear water now, just to find you.
Somehow, he says, when I stepped into the river
I could feel myself dissolving, and the feeling was good
so I waded out into the middle and sat down
and savored the woods leaning in, and felt
my legs disappearing, my whole lower body
turning into water. The sound of the rushing
water was voices I remembered, friends
I’d forgotten for years, now talking warmly
about our adventures, which made me nostalgic
for whoever I’d forgotten I’d been.
And just as I was breathing deeply, preparing
to dunk my head under the water so it would
disappear too, I saw my wife
skipping down the path, singing softly, with a towel
wrapped around her body; I watched her step in
and wade out toward what was left of me, only
a rock now, to step across the river on.
And soon she was singing more loudly, in pleasure,
she was calling to our children, to all our friends and neighbors
to join her at the river. And though I couldn’t see
from underneath the water, I’m sure I heard my children
running down the path now—I was amazed,
to be honest, that I could recognize the pattern
of their footfall from where I was sitting. I felt them
step into the water, my children, and wade out
to join us, smooth pebbles in the current--and before
long, I swear, all of us were sitting
at a rough-hewn, waterlogged table with glasses
of stout, telling how our lives had felt
since they had been lost. And since I was a little
tipsy by now I started to sing
that old song my children had loved so much
when they were just babies, the wheels on the bus
go round and round, and then we were all of us
singing underwater, in harmony, which
is miracle enough in itself to say nothing
of the fact that that river is filled with pollywogs
and minnows and I swear to god they were singing too.
Someone tells me the moon was exploded last night.
No one knows who did it; the consequences are only
just beginning to be measured. But when I look up,
it’s still there, hanging full in the sky
as always, doing its ancient work.
Another morning I woke early to see a hundred horses
moving through our neighborhood, grazing on our lawns.
Huge creatures, they smelled like trees and the loss
of the people I loved
until I had forgotten them.
By the time the sun had risen, those horses had vanished.
I was their only witness, though the grass had been ripped-up
and clusters of horse shit lay burning in the grass.
Soon my wife woke and opened our windows—
the morning was cool—and asked me to tell her
the story of her childhood, where she had grown up,
who her parents had been, what nicknames they’d called her,
and how they’d hugged her those nights she’d awakened
outside herself in the moonless dark.
and needed to be called home, and needed to be comforted
until she was human again.
We were dreaming that a mile could extend inside our bodies—
two miles between us—pretending we could walk
that distance, talking, holding hands, while blue jays
griped from the trees, and spiders wove shivering
webs in the breeze: this is love, we pretended;
and we dreamed a healing harmonics could sing
in the dust at the center of a blossom: an a cappella
chorus we could hear if we leaned close enough,
holding our breath, to feel the quivering
stamens, then inhaling that pollen—like a baby’s breath—
till our love seemed to swell beyond us, embracing
other forms of being than human: this feels
like life transformed into the ache
that moves the wind, transformed into the tide
that pulls the moon full, which was nothing like our real lives
or the love we actually felt, but precisely
what we couldn’t feel yet, like a glimpse of those insects
that live beneath stones, who scuttle off into
the grass, or burrow down into the dirt
when their stone is moved. And what if we could feel
the eyes of the wild creatures watching us, alert
for messages we didn’t mean to send with our bodies,
didn’t realize we were sending, what if we could feel
those eyes burning through our habits of being,
and what if that very burning made us more
vivid to ourselves, less caught in this merely
human being, would we raise our eyes then
to return the gaze of that other and feel,
not less adrift here, but instead something more
like the love a river might feel for the ground
it deepens as it rushes, or the sky reflected there?
One blue-tinted winter afternoon, when the harbor
we lived beside seemed to have frozen solid,
my brother and I ventured out onto that salt-ice,
which groaned and shifted as the tide rose
or fell below us and our mother called
from shore please come in. Of course we pretended
we were too far out to hear her, and as evening
settled around us, we started talking
in a language we made up as we spoke, a language
we grew more fluent in with every word.
Then we lay down together on our backs on the ice
and lay there in silence, looking up into the sky,
and listened as a stillness settled into the hollows
inside us—I still feel it sometimes, even
after all these years--and then we stood up
and reluctantly leaned toward shore, talking
softly now, pulling a star-filled
darkness behind our bodies.
Effortless effort was wanted. The friendliest
of recriminations. Mayhem ensuing.
Appletrees falling far from their apples. Stars
bursting with light. Last speakers of Spanish now
endangered. Enormous events predicted for
some time in the future. Pockets of poverty picked
daily. Snowstorms spring up every spring.
Urgency notwithstanding. Telephonitis, it was said.
Pleniloquence. Bluefish special: between 4 & 5.
In free fall, the gang at Deutsche Bank threw him a wedding
to end all weddings. One microcosm after another
dedicated itself to abstract thought, gave up
"voluntarily" (according to reliable reports) its benefits,
its annual bonuses, its blackjack winnings.
Mukarribs on horseback swept through, leaving
predominantly Jewish sections of Brooklyn in a state
of disarray: portraits of Warren Buffett dashed
to the floor, babies skewered like
lamb kebabs. Plausible theories spring up all along
the perimeter of our municipality, bursting
the dam of our estrangements.
My doctor and I have been playing a little game of telephone tag today. He's been trying to let me know that I'm going to be dying sooner than previously planned, this even after selling me an extended warranty only last year. I've managed to be out when he calls--you know, moving the car to get out of the way of street-cleaners and, of course, to avoid being ticketed and/or towed. When I get back to the apartment, there's another message from him on the machine, but it only says to call him, and that there's something "troubling" in my recent bloodwork. I put off calling him for a few days, and then, as always when I do call, he's either with a patient or not in the office or both. I leave my number with the re (de?) ceptionist and then leave the phone off the hook just in case he calls back before I have a chance to go out.
Along with the others, we approached their dominance
with a certain degree of skepticism. False annunciations
had taught us well, and when the harpsichord broke
down on the way to mass . . . well, we broke into howls
of despair. The dirty window overlooking the air shaft
allowed only a few minions of light to enter. Daylight
admitted rumors of thyroid and other endocrine
disorders--indolent diseases (or was it "insolent"?)
we were told. When news broke that the Second Coming
had been aborted by a back-alley abortionist, due
to the closing of Planned Parenthood clinics in all fifty
states, no hue and cry from the right. Expectations
of End Times rose to fever pitch, subsided when month
followed month, rose again. Unending war. Amen.
Water Lilies, Green Reflections
I’m sitting before Monet’s “Nymphéas; Reflets vert.”
The tiniest brushstroke of viridian green pigment
textures the water like shot-silk.
A woman in a blue kimono
with a black obi knotted at her back
glides dreamlike through the Orangerie.
When she sits next to me on the bench
beneath the gauze-covered oval skylight,
I think of Ryokan’s poem—
O that my monk’s robes
were wide enough
to gather up all the people
in this floating world—
a poem I think Monet would have liked,
maybe even would have whispered under his breath
when he rose before blue-black dawn
and carried easel, canvas, and paint box
through the dark to his lily pond.
her embroidered silk sleeve alongside my old tweed coat—
drooping willow branches calm the purple water.
The green of the lilies deepens.
The shadows darken.
I’d like to ask Ryokan
what brought the woman here this moment
that together we might imagine the bright clouds and breezes
blowing through the garden at Giverny.
Then I remember another poem the monk wrote
with his brush on a paper kite:
This morning on the Rue Ferou,
I found myself caught unawares
by Arthur Rimbaud’s poem
written on a wall that runs the length of the lane.
In the narrow cobblestone street
I translated the first lines into the air
then stepped aside
to let a bicycle rattle past.
The bicycle woke me to the fact
I was walking Montparnasse’s winding streets
a little bit like a drunken boat myself,
adrift on a sea of reveries.
To orient myself I looked around.
Ahead I could see the spires of Saint Sulpice
and over my shoulder the Luxembourg Gardens.
Once I had my bearings,
I walked the empty lane a few slow steps at a time,
gazing up at the poem,
When I was young
I carried Rimbaud’s poems
like a talisman in my coat pocket,
finding in him a visionary comrade
and in the drunken boat’s desire to be free
hope for my own future.
Rimbaud believed the joy of childhood
a lost paradise, and in his poetry
he searched in vain
for a path back to Eden.
“La vraie vie est absente,” he said.
he gave up writing,
left France for the West Indies and Africa,
became a soldier, a deserter,
ran guns in Ethiopia, had his leg amputated
and died at forty, a penniless businessman.
His letters describe life without poetry or love:
desperate, wretched, preposterous, gloomy.
I thought it could have been me writing in French,
“Alas! That life should be so miserable!”
Toward the end of the lane,
on the other side of the wall above the poem,
cherry trees were coming into bloom,
pink and white branches reaching into the sky.
Perhaps because of the generous light
and the delicate blossoms
the poem’s final image moved me
as it never had before—
a sad child at twilight
squatting by a cold black puddle
and releasing a toy boat
“as fragile as a May butterfly.”
There at the wall
I had to finally acknowledge—
I must have repressed it when I was younger—
that Rimbaud the man was never free,
never happy or loved,
never content to be a little boat
bobbing about on a sundrenched, windswept sea.
I tried to feel the poem as I did when I was a teenager,
tried to catch the fire that meant so much
when life seemed overwhelming
and I was breaking.
I remembered the photograph
I’ve kept on my desk over the years—
the boy’s chaste white blouse, the angelic face.
I reached out and ran my hand over the letters,
a wistful reminder of youth’s bright hopes
and bottomless despair.
And now, sitting here
in my apartment
writing in my diary
and sipping wine
by a tall window opened to song and laughter,
I find myself describing the Rue Ferou,
Rimbaud the seer,
and the contrast of his reality.
Then I remember the moment
the bicycle and rider rattled past
over the bumpy cobblestones,
the Frenchman in his tweed jacket
his jaunty cap and sunglasses,
the books and bread in his basket bouncing.
“Maybe,” I write, “I could be
like him, the man on the bike,
more or less content at the end of the day,”
and then I imagine
the rider lying on a sofa
in a small apartment and reading by lamplight,
a Paris moon in the window,
a bicycle leaning
by the door in the shadowed courtyard.
From my apartment on Rue St. Paul
it’s only a few minutes’ walk
through the labyrinthine old village
past the brocante shops and galleries
to the Bibliothèque Forney.
The guarded medieval gates once opened
for the archbishop’s horse and carriage;
now at the librarian’s desk
an identification card with my picture
swiped through an electronic sensor
opens the door to the courtyard,
where I always take a moment to look up
and admire the ancient walls
of golden stone and the bright red windows,
iron balconies, and black towers.
Stone steps built in the 1400s
climb up to the library devoted to the decorative arts—
the stacks rich with books
on painting, architecture, and design.
It is a good place to work.
The reading room has the feel of a monastery
yet at the long library tables
stylish young people tap away on laptops.
Right now I’m sitting by a window
with a book of Brassai photographs
and intently studying a portrait of Picasso in his studio,
the look in his eyes. I turn the page
and find old Paris graffiti—
names and faces
scratched and carved into walls.
Brassai called this “the language of walls,”
fugitive souls with knives
cutting into centuries-old stone.
I turn the page: a pair of initials
inside a heart.
and the timelessness of desire.
I turn the page again
and find a carved skull, the empty eyes,
and think of the scholar’s skull,
the memento mori. Today
I climbed the spiral stone stairway
to pore over these images from the past
and lose myself in thought
sitting by the window,
happy in the window light—
I am as absorbed by the photographs
of skulls and lovers’ hearts
as if they were sacred scripture
illuminated in blue and gold
by the meticulous brushwork of monks of old
and I a young novitiate
tracing the text with my fingertips
and reading by candle light.
I share this with you
because you are my friend
and I know you know what I mean.
walking in the Latin Quarter
and dreamily following
the narrow cobblestone passageways
wherever they led
and losing myself in the crowds
carousing outside the brightly-lit bars
and hideaway restaurants,
I saw Man Ray in a gray suit
stepping through a doorway
and up narrow stairs. The lights
went on in a second-floor apartment
and through the sheer white curtains
I could see he was conversing
with Kiki, his model and muse.
Kiki looked fabulous
with her big eyes
and straight black bangs.
She was the kind of spirit who would enchant
Man Ray’s famous guests,
cook for them, woo them,
and at evening’s end,
sing for them.
I thought to ring the bell
and tell Kiki
that Man Ray’s photograph
of her naked back turned into a violin
is famous, that Les Violon d’Ingres
is now pictured on calendars
and even on the postcard
I dropped this morning
into the yellow mailbox.
I thought to tell Man Ray
that seeing his Indestructible
Object changed the way I looked
at everything, but then realized
words can’t really explain why
I embrace such a mad thing—
a metronome with a cutout of an eye
glued to the pendulum.
Suddenly the lights went out in the apartment.
I had the eerie feeling that Kiki and Man Ray
were looking down at me,
looking up at them.
That’s the way it is with art:
I find myself alone in the milling crowds
of the Latin Quarter at night,
looking up at dark windows,
looking for words to tell Kiki and Man Ray
that their art has always moved me.
Then, as if he could hear my thoughts,
Man Ray opened the window
and leaned out.
His pomaded hair shined in the streetlamp—
I could see the rakes of his comb.
A purple stain, perhaps of wine, bloomed on his lapel.
He asked me why I didn’t ring the bell and told me
Eric Satie was with him the day he created
his first ready-made—the flat iron with nails.
I told him I love the flat iron with nails.
He said it was a century ago
and he didn’t speak French
and Satie didn’t speak English,
but that Satie said it didn’t matter.
They had been drinking hot grog—
it was winter in Paris and cold—
and they were walking to Man Ray’s gallery show
and saw the iron in a shop window.
Man Ray bought the iron then and there
and with Satie searched for glue and nails.
Then Kiki too leaned out into the light,
her black bangs falling forward, her face pale, her eyes
glistening, her neck long and white against the dark room.
“He called it Le Cadeau”—her musical accent was charming!—
“which in English means, ‘The Gift.’”
“I know, I know,” I said, wanting to say more,
wanting to say I’ve known “The Gift” all my life,
that it has been instructive and enriching,
but with so many people around—
the boisterous crowds of students and tourists
jostling on the crooked streets—
I grew shy and self conscious
about calling up to the window,
not that anyone was listening to my effusions.
Kiki asked if I knew Man Ray grew up
among sewing machines and flat irons—
his father a tailor, his mother a seamstress?
I told her that’s interesting. I didn’t know that.
I told her my grandfather was a blacksmith.
“He made wheels, gates, and tools. I think
he actually made flat irons, too,” I said.
“A god-like man who dared seize the fire,”
Man Ray said. “Yes,” I said, “that’s right.”
I explained that my grandfather died
before I was born. My mother
was with him when his heart stopped.
“Je suis désolé,” Kiki said. “Je suis désolé.”
In the upstairs open window
behind the white curtains
the two of them became
Kiki and Man Ray.
Muse and artist.
walking home at midnight
on the cobblestone quais along the Seine
and looking down into the black water
and the golden lights reflected there,
I regretted that I never knew my grandfather,
never got to talk with him at his anvil
or feel the heat of his forge
or see him smile to see his work.
Then I heard Kiki’s voice
speaking to me as clearly as if she
and Man Ray were walking beside me.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said,
“It doesn’t matter that you never talked.
The forge is a gift. Indestructible.
It lives on when you hammer words into being,
stories about your grandfather
and his little girl in the house practicing piano,
keeping time with the all-seeing metronome.”
This morning I took a walk
through the Luxembourg Gardens
and saw old men
playing chess under the spring sycamores
riding ponies on the paths—
like heaven, I thought.
Then at noon as church bells rang
I sat in Saint Sulpice
and considered the Delacroix painting
wrestling with the angel.
For the rest of the afternoon
I strolled aimlessly,
going where the wind blew,
dreaming about love and happiness.
I walked past the locked doors
of apartment buildings
once home to Hemingway
and Gertrude Stein,
and Henry Miller,
and the fact I was lost
and could remember none of the fabled addresses
and enriched the sense of mystery of each street corner
and alley, the feelings of loss
and thoughts of what might have been.
I wondered where De Chirico lived?
Maybe on the rue St. André des Arts?
I wondered if Modigliani lived
in that apartment up there,
the one with the geraniums in the widow box.
Some people say that painting is dead.
Some people say
there will never be another golden age.
All I know is
I could walk Paris for a thousand days
and never see all there is to see.
Maybe that’s why little things can be so moving,
little things in a shop window—
red roses in a blue vase,
a yellow-faced wooden clock,
a bent piece of brown wire like a twisted vine
holding glass grapes
the color of Prosecco and Merlot.
As I was walking I told myself,
“Let’s go to Deyrolle,
say hello to the tigers and butterflies
and chat a while with the gardener prince.”
Nearby — I was glad to remember! —
there’s an alley I love,
tiny and dark—
that makes me feel fully imagined
like a character in a Diderot novel.
But when I looked up,
I saw “La Bateu Ivre”
and realized I was on the Rue Ferou again—
the third time this week—
and that I’d walked St. Germain des Pres
in some sort of crazy circle
as I daydreamed.
That’s okay. You go no place by accident.
George Bellows said you can learn more
from painting one street scene—
if that’s what I’ve been doing in my head—
than from six months in an atelier.
I once saw a Man Ray painting of the Rue Ferou,
a lovely calm picture
so atypically quiet and subdued for the surrealist
that it seemed to me it could’ve been painted
by my Aunt Grace, back in Carolina.
Aunt Grace brought things to life with her brush.
Aunt Grace would have loved Paris,
drinking tea at the Café de Flore
and reasoning with the existentialists.
Grace is gone now.
The relatives back in Carolina
say she’s in heaven,
which Laura with a sly smile says just might be
as nice as Paris, who knows?
I’m hoping heaven is like my apartment
on the Right Bank in Saint Paul,
with the dirty dishes piled in the sink.
When evening fell over the rooftops
I found myself leaning against the fountain
of Saint Michael, thanking him
for slaying the dragon and vanquishing evil.
Then I walked home across the Seine
by way of Pont Marie,
thinking about my desk and lamp
as the French sun set
and a million lights came on
like a soft hand touching my cheek.
A part of me is still there on the bridge,
leaning on the stone railing
Le Bateau-Lavoir is gone, burned to the ground.
Nonetheless, I’ve come to 13 Rue Ravignan
to sit on the bench in the cobblestone park
and pay homage to the lost, ramshackle,
poorly-lit studios of Picasso and Braque,
Matisse, Apollinaire, and Kees van Dongen
—even though there’s nothing here to see,
no cold room to stand in
imagining Jean Cocteau at his desk
or Modigliani at his easel with his model.
I linger beneath the chestnut trees,
a little lost, a little disappointed
time has moved on though little has changed, ….
In my coat I’ve a half baguette from Miss Manon’s,
which seems the bread of heaven
as I stroll the lanes to the square atop Montmartre,
filled at noon with painters selling work,
sketching portraits and painting en plein air,
enjoying the day and the warm spring sun.
I nibble and observe portraitists at work,
the skill, virtuosity, and cleverness
apparent in every charcoal portrait.
If my daughter were here
I’d ask if she would sit for a portrait, too,
just for me. Earlier today,
down the hill from Le Bateau Lavoir,
I saw a man my age alone in his shop,
painting on a small wood panel
dead game birds and cut lilies,
a still life worthy of a Dutch master.
And this morning in the metro
I heard a sax player who played Sydney Bechet
like Sydney Bechet.
And when I changed trains at Concorde
I heard a violinist playing
the trills and squeaks
sending birdsong through the tunnels.
A year or two back,
I read a story about Joshua Bell,
the American violinist.
One morning in the D.C. metro,
with a violin made by Stradivari in 1713,
Bell played six classical masterpieces,
one after another,
beginning with Bach’s “Chaconne.”
The stale air in the pedestrian arcade
came alive—the dust motes sparkled—
and with the tiny instrument
the artist made a music Brahms called
“a whole world of the deepest thoughts
and most powerful feelings.”
But that day in the subway—
and here’s what’s hard to understand—
no one even stopped to listen.
In The Business Of Whales
It’s a reverse process of public health—
the humpback, trailing prey like molar-
white blood, only with more blubber
twinkling krill, flailing like ripped
esophagi, are drowning to swallow
dolphins. Either purge language
or master the syntax of oxygen.
I’ve an ocean of infectious smiles
and stem cell denizens. How waves
play the induction factors, altering
thoughts to suit seas like a tailor
and tame the three-piece suffocation.
I check shipwrecked baleen with fading
gasoline and infantile fins. I know
the taste of finalized bubbles,
but not the last bitterness of air.
Little pumpkins crumple in your pocket.
Icepick fingers prick at alligator hides,
appraising their weight through orphan
incisors. Wait on their signal. Incubate.
Your palms are now iceboxes.
You are mercurial. Digits tinker
with your hatching organ. Picking
at their seams, as though desperate
to lobotomize them into sentience.
Innervated into a prophecy.
Doctors in sugary pairs. Dissolution.
Your skin clinks, geometric in teeth.
Their hands are bloodier than yours.
Is it the misguided demi-god
that tries to crochet Jupiter
to empty riverbeds: planting old
hangnails in the gravel mattress,
blossoming more reptilian than
cross-stitched storms? Vanity
is a scalar quantity. Lightning
emanates from basilisk irises.
Caution tape knits tornadoes.
…trying to water that which
never even flowed. To form
a pulse from genius. Paradise
from miscarried hurricanes.
How much has happened while I’ve waited for
my refrigerator to clean itself?
When migrants came though on their bus, the wrong
side of the church chased them down the street with
signs. A man locked two women in a room
for thirteen years. Across an ocean and
a desert, by now the city has been
taken, another twelve boys with their throats
slit in the courtyard of their school. Still, the
top shelf is sticky from the popsicle
that mistakenly melted there. Who can
pay attention all the time, so many
borders gone, drawn by compass, level,
sextant, and transit, the four companions
that mapped out the globe, locking enemies
into the same villages, dividing
families with walls, modernizing the
borders for commerce but disobeying
natural laws. Who spilled the milk and did
not wipe it up, merely closed the door to
darkness and the cold, turning their back to
sit on the couch and eat a sandwich while
Bagdad was burning, and another news
story about a missing boy crossed the
bottom of the screen like a tickertape currency
designed purely to maximize profits?
My husband said, I am trying to talk
about love while we were deciding if
we should go bowling. Our daughter asked for
our help, then turned us away, all of our
conveniences rebelling, unable
to function, for we haven’t maintained them.
If punishment worked, the jails would be empty,
the street corner bare as I walk by. Instead,
the museum yawns while remembering how
once song began the day at the grammar school
behind it. Luck like faith has fled because no
one knows the difference between them, our mistake
believing prayers should be answered, so we make
narrow ones to fill our shallow lives. Have him
love me, bring me money, help me make the grade—
rising to the top of our hollow talk
like an unfiltered swirl of petty pleas
slowly turning in the vacuum that becomes
our lives, the vortex we create by staying
in or climbing out when we have to relieve
ourselves. I’m being polite but obvious;
bitter but kind; broken and different but
with a stem that is green in the midst of a
graveyard. I avoid some mistakes while making
others, recoil from the word ‘consequence,’ which
gives some the right to judge and do nothing, while
providing the rest with a reason to grieve.
Thinking about Sex and Death, Deeply
Not all danger is deceptive. It can be manifested honestly,
like a bloody finger from the hesitant julienning of sweet onions
or gulps of saltwater taken by a snorkeler with a cramped ankle.
An anglerfish recognizes such vulnerability—welcomes prey
with bioluminescence and a crescent-mouthed grin
which parts to reveal glinting fangs like shards of glass.
A skydiver experienced a seizure at 9,000 feet and survived.
My friend mutes the news report and says life has risks,
that it was the consequence of bold actions they took to truly live.
She wants to shatter the portrait others have sculpted of her
as baby sister and church darling, sings of how her true self
fades away, smothered by small town expectations.
But she comes back to our apartment crying that she’s a whore
after being kissed by a guy who asked for a dance,
bought her a Yuengling that night clubbing in Tallahassee.
What else could she be, if not a virgin who only meets dateable men
in class or at the library who want committed, chaste relationships
and to discuss the Dave Matthews Band over coffee and pumpkin scones?
How long will she yearn for love that exists as she dreams of it?
How far will she take self-deprecation under the weight of a purity ring
when St. Lucy gouged out her eyes and gave them to Diocletian on a golden plate?
Will she ever focus breathlessly on a man caressing her breasts,
lifting the hem of her dress in the shadows of the front porch?
Could she ignore formaldehyde while cutting open the womb of a dogfish shark?
There is a raw sincerity in the curled bodies of the embryos,
clear and motionless beneath the passing of white lab coats,
a collective pile of possibilities never fulfilled.
He thought the sudden polishing of the shirt sleeve would be his redemption. After all, it had been centuries since he'd even heard a footfall on the drip-slick stone of the cave. But there he was, tethered to his lamp like a stubborn flame, refusing the million dollars, the bigger dick, the three more wishes. Caught between the cramped brass and human monumental pettiness, the genie couldn't bear to fully enter a world in which desire could reach no higher than a cookie jar.
Love needs a body to do its work.
— Barbara Hill
Grief needs a body too,
needs hands like shovels and the bent
back of dirt, the grunt and groan
of its necessary load. Grief needs two
good legs to stand on and the sense to know
when to sit down. It needs rolled-up shirtsleeves,
a thermos of sweet tea, a shady spot in the grass
for its chair. Grief needs a bushel basket
for the snap beans it will leave
on your doorstep some evening,
a mason jar for the snapdragons sprung up
in the side yard where no one goes.
All day, grief does its job
like a dutiful mule. At night it needs
the radio left on in the kitchen.
Grief needs a body too.
A coin purse made of shells.
A mixing bowl, a first-edition
Joy of Cooking too mildewed to use.
The bassinet. An incomplete set of silver,
three books by L.M. Montgomery,
which inspired my name. Two family rings,
a flower I made from a paper plate
at five. An old address book with names
and zip codes of the dead. The sound
of her voice singing Dixie Melody,
the waxy smell of her lipstick
and the cigarettes she smoked in the car.
How her hair in sunlight looked like bourbon
swirled in a glass. Her pretty watch,
but not the pearls my father gave her.
Those she wears still.
I am not a morning person.
I don’t read the news before eight
or even the daily Garrison Keillor
poem. I look at botched celebrity facelifts
and the ten worst hairstyles for women
my age. I abhor the domestic
racket of breakfast, my husband's
relentlessly chipper ways. He actually
hums while cooking, possibly even
while eating, which he’s doing now.
He stands with his plate at the counter,
looking out at the viburnum he’s pruned
for years. It’s muscular, and blooms
like a large and tender boy coaxed out
of shadow and onto the stage.
I should have said thanks for the omelet
and the coffee. I should have admired
the viburnum and the cluster of hyacinths
that lean toward it like the sun. I should have
noticed its outstretched limbs like a man
with his hands full of blossoms,
waiting all morning
just to give them away.
Not another black pair.
Not the low heels and roomy round toes I favor for every day.
I want red ones, like in magazines.
I want them brought out in boxes and displayed at my feet
like a feast about to be served.
I want a young man with hands like white doves to offer them
pair by pair for my approval —
silk, then suede, sling-back, then the elegant open-toed.
I want them all—
the strappy stiletto, the pump, the wedge.
With my heel at rest in the soft white nest of his palm,
I want all the reds he sets in front of me —
scarlet, crimson, bittersweet, rose
Like those old movies where the passage of time
Is illustrated by the pages of a calendar
Tearing off and blowing forward off the screen,
And we see the days, the seasons, the over
And over of leaves falling and trees releafing,
And back of that the bodies marching off to war,
Marching back again, selling apples on street corners,
Snoring in Salvation Armies, their hands in their shoes.
And as the pages slow and stop, the camera finds him,
The young man we loved and knew, stooped now,
A glamorous dash of gray at the temples,
Standing before the warden. And the warden says
Keep your nose clean, son And a look
Makes its way across his pale face,
Not quite a smirk, not quite a grin,
Something damaged and familiar we saw once
On a street as we hurried to the subway
To get out of the weather,
Newspapers skittering by,
Men clinging to their hats for dear life.
To be skin to the skin.
To be veil between thing and thing.
To be thrown down in anger or insult.
Or perfumed for seduction.
To be emptied finger by finger until all that remains is an idea of you
In a hat on a table by the door.
Aches seem older
than my shoulder blades.
There my wings once fluttered.
Back then I was one with
air and light.
And when did they wither?
Was it the time I rushed to the pane
to see the sky darkened?
When I first learnt the strength of gravity?
My bondage to it through
loss and time?
My wings dried up, became
unseen even to the Gods
who had given them to me.
And I, never an angel,
a fallen one.
Shooting stars in my backyard
I become a tree and host fireflies.
On Sale one Morris chair,
where you sat the day you came
with the ring.
I still haven’t
found a buyer for my dream –
invincible as the
yellow acacia we planted,
stubborn like the hovering
Dragonfly over the rose bush.
How do I let it go?
All the packing boxes
and the tape can't secure
that which never came true.
Blue patch between the neem leaves,
all it holds, all it never will.
My warm jackets hang forgotten
in my closet as the thin shirt
on me fights a losing battle.
Winter morning in the old city.
Familiar. Yet a stranger still.
I light a cigarette, craving
warmth, relishing the chill.
Should I laugh? I contemplate
as the chill stings my eyes to tears.
He asks me once again, "Do you
love me?" I am true to too many
summer nights and winter mornings.
Outside my window
A Neem tree between graves of neighbours
who were strangers to each other.
Army of sarees, chests of jewels,
crates of books, riot of colours,
but no music player for her.
To own a song you love is to
lose its charm.
She made sure it was never
within reach for her to play and
tire of it. The bitter sweet
pain of chancing on it on the
radio, strain of it drifting
from a stranger's window..
Mist in her coffee cup,
Lift doors close
on a stranger's smile.
In middle age, ghost in me rebels,
rages against the slow dimming of
the light in my eyes. Tiny circle
of turquoise flashing on my ear,
lustre of white gold rings of a love
long gone. Studs pierce my body-
my nose, navel, pale lids of my eyes?
Will these beat time? Will it be the
white of my ribs that once caged a
wild heart? Or the twin circles of my
pelvic bones,once showing off my
feminity with feline grace?
In an old jewel case
A baby tooth without a name
On a true blue bed
between clouded mountains
I grow a new brain.
This one will be sparkling,
fine, afloat in the sea of truth.
I sleep flanked by two trusted
dogs guarding my bed
midst brushed cotton green
and purple flannel.
I grow a new heart
and beat to the
rhythm of truth.
Who awakens in
the blue bed perched mornings
on a hill in the clouds?
A waker fashioned from true lies?
This evening, we sit by the pool,
share matches and light alcohol
from a blue bottle of our
wounds. Your purple swimsuit mended
with my bikini strings, tied
again and again. We dive
into the pool, into the blue
surf dirtied by yesterday’s rain.
Coral the color of an old
scar tears a smile into my arm;
fish, sharp paparazzi, gather
The Owl of Minerva
An owl near the top of the maple,
dark lump in a web of branches
like the tumor cradled in veins
the doctors found a week ago
when you came in complaining
of a burning in your belly.
You and your cousin had a .22
to shoot cans and starlings.
The owl should have been easy,
a clear target straight up,
the two of you taking turns,
but it neither flinched nor fell.
If anything, the shadow grew:
a cowl round the noon sun,
a hush in the heartbeat of day,
brooding on calamity as it
waited for the shroud of dusk
to spread its ancient wings.